My First Microscope Russ Hanson
When I was about 12 years old, I asked my parents for my own microscope for either Christmas or my Birthday (December 10th). We shopped for Christmas presents from the two big home catalogs – Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Wards. I had decided to be a scientist by that time and I knew I needed a microscope, telescope, chemistry set and some science books to read.
I picked out a $12 microscope that looked like what I could use and was in the price range I thought was right for a present. I worked on the farm, but it wasn’t until next year that I could work for my neighbor, Raymond Noyes and earn money on my own. All of the money we earned picking cucumbers for the pickle factory was saved ($80 a summer) for school clothes.
In 1958, Dad worked out at $1 per hour as a carpenter when he had time while still farming fulltime, so $12 was what he earned for 12 hours of work – a great deal of money for the whole family.
Mom and Dad felt that gifts for us that were educational were worth paying more for than toys. As I wanted this badly, I negotiated with them and said I would accept it as both my birthday and Christmas gift for 1958. I got it on my birthday. I did get a few smaller gifts for Christmas, but the microscope was the main gift.
It took a while to learn how to use the microscope and I found that most things were best seen at the lowest power. The longer eyepiece and the shortest rotating stage gave 60x (60 times magnification). Higher powers were hard to focus and difficult to get the light right and dirt on the lenses showed up more.
Things that were mostly transparent worked with the little round mirror under the stage (flat part) adjusted to focus light up through the hole, through the specimen on the glass slide and into the eyepiece. Changing the mirror angle gave more or less light and made different views.
If it was opaque (opposite of transparent) then I needed some light shining from the top side on the specimen. An old goose-neck bendable reading lamp worked OK for this. Later I bought a small flexible desk lamp just for using the microscope.
The first things I looked at were things around the house. Flies, cloth, thread, food, and whatever looked interesting. I wanted to look at pond water but that was harder until I got the coverslips – tiny flat thin sheets of glass. Using an eyedropper (from an old Vicks medicine bottle) I put a drop of water from the swamp on the slide and looked. It was messy and I got the bottom of the lens wet and dirty when I wasn’t careful and moved it too low. It was is bothersome to clean them (all of them come apart by unscrewing them and can be cleaned with a cue-tip and alcohol).
When I got the coverslips, I could put the drop down, gently put the coverslip over it and then look at the thin layer of trapped water between glass and slip. I got a book from the school library and identified all sorts of little animals—big rotifers, amoebas, tiny odd looking things, euglena (half plant-half animal) and mosses algae and more—often swimming around in the tiny flattened drop. Nowadays a student can ask the school biology teacher to borrow a couple of glass slides and cover slips, but I was in grade school at Cushing and they didn’t have a microscope at all, and science was mostly from books.
I spent hours looking at the life in an eyedropper drop of swamp water, of Wolf Creek water from Grandpa’s farm (Marvin’s now) and of course I looked at dirt, at sand, at plants, at blood, and everything I could find.
Eventually when I got into high school, the biology lab had a few microscopes that were much better and bigger and I could see more, but I always liked my own first microscope, and so kept it all my life to bring it out once in a while to look at something.
It is an Adams 60x to 600x although the higher powers don’t work very good – and the lens are now somewhat dirty, I could use them if I was careful. Having a microscope taught me to be careful, gentle, and scrupulously clean, and that is why my microscope still works.
When a lens is dirty, you can tell that by turning the eyepiece and seeing the dirt move on that set of lenses, or turning out It could be cleaned up more, but it takes patience, care and is hard to get it really clean.
The microscope was made in Japan, has brand name Adams 60x – 600x and came from either Sears or Wards.
My Uncle Lloyd Hanson got me started in electronics as the branch of science I decided to specialize in. He told us about a “crystal radio” that he had in his barracks during World War II in California where he was stationed. He brought it out and said it ran without batteries and needed a long wire aerial and a ground, and could pick up local radio stations during the day and more at night. He said during the war, they weren’t supposed to have a radio in the barracks as it would bother other people, so he used this one – a wooden box about 6x6x6 with some knobs and dials and a place to hook an earphone and the aerial and ground.
He loaned it to me to try out and although I never got it going, decided to get a Crystal Radio for $4 from Sears for another birthday and that one did work. I built it myself. We didn’t have any good books on this in any libraries around and we didn’t get to them anyway, so I wrote to the Wisconsin Free Traveling Library in Madison for books on crystal radios, and they sent me one, and later another to read for a month. The library was for folks in rural areas who couldn’t otherwise get books on subjects they wanted. No internet in those days!
By the time I was 16, I built my 6 inch reflector telescope, had bought several electronics kits, got a chemistry set for Christmas and was already taking all the science classes in High School and planning to go to college in physics, math and chemistry. I managed to get a major in physics and math, later a minor in chemistry and another minor in computer science and took night classes most of my working life to learn more about electronics and computers. However, my main job for 25 years was in medicine and biology where I was useful to the biologists because I knew about much of the science and math they didn’t study.
(I plan to give the microscope away to a budding scientist and this is for that person)
I hope you have as much enjoyment out of looking at the microscopic world under your first microscope as I did. When I got older – much older, I bought a used better microscope that I still have. I could see things better, but never really enjoyed it nearly as much as this one. It is now 60 years old and, other than needing some cleaning, in just about as good a shape as when I got it.